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Fighter radar – securing the first line of defence

8 min read

If your nation is under a direct threat, the first line of defense is ready to detect, track and identify any incoming target. The fighter and radar are the first barrier to deal with potential threats, and are ready to act when time is of the essence.

In critical situations, time is a valuable but rare asset, crucial to seizing the initiative with the appropriate measures. It is especially important in modern warfare scenarios where threats from the air have become increasingly more advanced and faster – everything from modern, fifth generation fighter jets to hypersonic, cruise and ballistic missiles.

Most of them have a very small radar cross-section (RCS) or the ability to attain extremely high speeds, giving you, the target in the line-of-sight, minimal time to react and respond. At the same time, various types of unmanned aerial vehicles and a range of electronic warfare systems can be deployed to disrupt and deceive your forces. In such contested and congested operational environments, radar is a vital sensor for detecting and tracking these threats fast enough.

Saab's advanced and highly intelligent fighter radar is designed to lead such efforts and to secure a nation's first line of defence by providing the ability to detect, track and identify, and to support actions to deter, repel and, if required, eliminate any threat.

Gripen with PS-05-A fighter radar

Finding all the pieces in the awareness puzzle

Guesswork has no place in first line defence operations. When something happens out there, for instance, if an airborne surveillance or other system detects possible threats from afar, action must be taken to determine if the threat is real or not. This is where the fighter aircraft comes into play. This means that the fighter and its radar are facing the potential threat first, identifying it and evaluating the severity of the situation. In the vulnerable position of a first line defender, access to advanced sensors and powerful decision support is of utmost importance.

A fighter aircraft’s complex sensor suite is particularly effective when it comes to finding the final and most important pieces of the awareness puzzle. Both active and passive radar, Electronic Support (ES – passive part of EW system) and communication via data links co-operate to ascertain the recognized air picture, and Electronic Attack (EA) to defend yourself if under threat or attack. As a fighter pilot, with all this, you can act with certainty and confidence, having every tool you need for creating and maintaining air superiority.

The art of keeping cool in 9 G

In challenging situations and close and complex conflict scenarios, fighter pilots and their aircraft are exposed to enormous G-forces during acceleration, or when the aircraft ascends, descends, or turns at high speed. In such situations, the pilots’ pressure suits ensure their ability to act even at high G-forces. The fighter radar, on the other hand, is designed to keep cool and deliver at whatever speed and maintain its target tracking capability despite any rapid change in geometrical aspect angles and altitudes, under quick and complex manoeuvres up to 9G, and in the presence of disrupting radar clutter, that is reflections from the ground. This requires a radar with highly advanced signal processing methods and the ability to adapt its transmitted radar signal  to the situation under any given conditions.

Under such circumstances, the fighter radar must also be able to share the targets’ positions, speed and predicted positions with very high accuracy to other systems.

In a real conflict situation, the fighter radar will most likely be confronted with Electronic Warfare (EW) measures and must be able to withstand active jamming from enemy aircraft while continuing to detect and track without being distracted, deluded or blindfolded by the jamming.

The fighter radar – the main sensor of the fighter aircraft

All modern fighter aircraft are designed with more or less advanced sensors to provide situation awareness, where radar, EW- and communication systems provide information which is combined and fused to provide an accurate, real-time and recognized situational picture. Information that is vital for anyone who climbs into the cockpit of a fighter and takes off for their next mission.

This means that close integration between radar and EW-system is of the greatest importance. At Saab, this is nothing new. We are one of the few companies in the world with the ability to build one of the world's most advanced fighter aircraft as well as world-leading radar and EW solutions. Today, we have a highly integrated Radar/EW suite and we are well prepared to take on and meet the challenges played out in the increasingly complex and demanding operational scenarios of today and tomorrow.

“Using common competence, technologies, resources and facilities in our organization, taking all sensor product areas such as surface, airborne and fighter radar as well as EW, Communication and aircraft integration into account, Saab is extremely competent and competitive to take on the future’s sensor system design.“
Jonas Branzell, Head of Product Unit Fighter & Sensor Core.

Saab has world-leading expertise in radar technology with long experience and extensive knowledge of how to optimize the capabilities of a radar. There’s a high focus on software control and to use all possible features of modern hardware. The solution is to combine modern hardware with software-controlled functionality and advanced adaptive signal- and data processing algorithms. In this way, you can make use of every bit of energy that the radar produces and eliminate the energy losses that traditionally occur.

For us at Saab, it's about getting the most capability out of the best possible technical solution. We do this, among other things, through continuous spiral development of both hardware and software to always stay one step ahead, both technically and in terms of capabilities to meet potential threats.

Important features of a fighter radar

The most challenging targets are often small, stealthy, fast and can act in close and complex groups. When we developed the PS-05/A Mk3 fighter radar, one of the most important features was its ability to see small targets far away and thus create the most possible time to react and act.

The most important functions and features of a fighter radar are:

  • Detection and tracking of small or stealthy air targets at long ranges
  • Very good situation awareness i.e. rapid target acquisition in the wide aspect of angles
  • Low probability of intercept (i.e. without being detected yourself)
  • Detection and tracking of ground and sea moving targets such as vehicles and ships
  • Mapping of land and sea areas, even in the dark or in foggy weather where optical sights are not available
  • Guidance of weapons when such measures are necessary
  • Good protection against jamming from enemy

Sweden’s first line of defence is improving

The Gripen fighter system is Sweden’s first line of defence and extremely important for security, both for preventive purposes and grey zone scenarios as well as in full-scale conflicts. To be able to confront future threats in an effective manner, the Gripen C/D fighter radar is now undergoing an upgrade.

The upgrade to the PS-05/A Mk4 radar will improve both air-to-air target tracking range and overall performance. It will enable a big step forward in radar performance and functionality through a modern hardware and fully software-defined functionality which, when combined, secure optimization of radar energy efficiency and provide possibilities for continued functional growth and relevance during Gripen C/D’s foreseeable lifetime. Something that is extremely important in today’s rapidly changing world where security needs evolve as new types of threats and targets emerge.

The latest upgrade of the fighter radar in Gripen C/D is currently in production for export to Hungary and has been ordered by Sweden for future deliveries to Gripen C/D aircraft in the coming years.

Co-operation – a success factor

To meet customer needs, we are working closely with the Swedish Armed Forces and the Defence Materiel Administration (FMV). We identify, study and define new or changed functionality and receive validation and feedback from both real missions and situations as well as advanced simulations and tests. This close co-operation has led to an extremely competent and robust radar sensor fully integrated in the Gripen fighter system and validated in tough conditions.

Gripen test aircraft PS-05/A

Much of the collaboration takes place in an established spiral development process which increases the speed and reliability of the work. A large part of testing and validation work is conducted using advanced simulator systems. It is a fast, reliable and sustainable way in the early stages of development. The real deal (flight tests) is saved for the final and decisive tests and validations.

Sweden’s own capability to understand and formulate requirements of a fighter radar, to define and retain a capability to develop, produce and maintain a fighter radar, is important for our national security. At Saab we are proud to be able to contribute to that work.

Article author


Jonas Branzell

Head of Fighter & Sensor Core, Radar Solution, Surveillance

Responsible for Surveillance business within Fighter Radar and Missile Electronics and for technology insertion to Saab by Research and Concept’s and development of common Sensor Core Platforms.